Washington, D.C. – House Administration Committee Republicans, led by Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), issued the following regarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi using coronavirus legislation as a political wish list for House Democrats. A large chunk of that wish list, which Politico recognizes as standing no chance of becoming law, will be focused on a federal takeover of our elections under the guise of "helping states" expand their vote by mail systems.
However, there's a difference in states expanding absentee voting options to fit the needs of their voters and what the Democrats are trying to do, which is force states to mail every registered voter a live ballot, whether or not they request one. While this process may sound innocuous, forcing states to implement an entirely new vote-by-mail system comes with its own problems, especially when this federal mandate comes just six months before a presidential election. Below are five areas of concern with the Democrats' approach:
- Overriding States' Constitutions: States are already grappling with these decisions at their own level of government. When the Chicago Board asked Governor Pritzker in Illinois to switch their state to an all-mail election or alter the date of their primary election, he recognized it was not in his legal authority to override Illinois' election law. When Governor Evers in Wisconsin tried to unilaterally change their primary election date and how their state would vote, the state's Supreme Court ruled that the law was against him in overriding Wisconsin's law. Why then should the federal government, who does not know these states' individual needs half as well as its governors, override states' constitutions to mandate election changes? Transitioning to vote-by-mail would put a strain on state and local election administrators. It requires major technology and staff upgrades, managing resources split between in-person and mail voting, adjusted ballot return deadlines, pre-paid postage, and realistic ballot processing expectations. Additionally, vote-by-mail does not alleviate the need for in-person voting locations nor poll workers and only adds to the strain of administering elections when state resources are limited.
- Poorly Administering Elections: States without extensive vote-by-mail infrastructure already in place are not well equipped for an immediate transition to all vote-by-mail due to the coronavirus. A Bipartisan Policy Center Review revealed that 34 states had fewer than 15% of their ballots cast by mail during the 2018 election, with many in the single digits. The National Association of Presort Mailers has issued warnings about the capacity of its members to expand their printing and mailing preparations for the November election. Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a champion of vote-by-mail has said if states are not already at 60% or above for vote-by-mail they are unlikely to be prepared to do so by November.
- Disenfranchising Voters: An unprecedented pandemic may not be the easiest time to teach voters a new voting method, which could cause many to vote incorrectly and not have their vote counted. Vote-by-mail can also add additional hurdles for voters such as signature verification requirements that increase the likelihood that a vote will be rejected. The Native American Rights Fund, an organization that provides legal assistance to tribes and Native American individuals, outlined potential obstacles for Native Americans in an entirely vote-by-mail election, like issues with access to traditional mail services, a lack of broadband connectivity, and cultural communication barriers.
- Increasing Voter Fraud Attempts: Many states have simply ignored or not had the resources to comply with requirements under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to maintain accurate voter registration lists. Federal requirements to send all registered voters a ballot prior to states updating their registered voter lists would diminish public confidence as ballots are mailed to those who have moved or passed away, not to mention, create significant confusion for election administrators. Just last week, California and Los Angeles County were required to remove 1.5 million inactive voters from their registration lists when a Judicial Watch lawsuit claimed L.A. County has more registered voters than citizens. If Democrats are able to federally mandate a nation-wide, all-mail election in November, election officials could be sending out more live ballots than actual registered voters, which could lead to fraudulent ballots being returned.
- Delaying Election Results: While the United States Postal Service is continuing its essential operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, USPS does not have the capacity or infrastructure to provide timely delivery and handling of large amounts of ballots if our entire nation transitions to an all-mail election in November. Additionally, when allowing ballots postmarked on election day to be counted, it undoubtedly results in election administrators and workers counting ballots several weeks after the election. We saw this play out in California's 2018 midterm elections when races weren't called until days or even weeks after election day.
Congress has already provided over $1.25 billion since 2018 to help states update their election infrastructure, $400 million alone from the previous CARES Act to help states make COVID-19 preparations, and the Election Assistance Commission is working around the clock to provide coronavirus guidance and resources for states to administer their elections. It's time for House Democrats to stop trying to take advantage of a national emergency to push their own political agenda.